A healthcare service in East Sussex is using national Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Week (June 13-19) to highlight the importance of getting an early diagnosis for the disease.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is a long term condition which if left untreated can lead to permanent disability. However, thanks to medical advances, the outlook for people diagnosed today is improving continuously.
Dr Ragnar Ingvarsson is a Rheumatologist and Interim Clinical Director with Sussex MSK Partnership East, the NHS service for muscle bone and joint conditions in most of East Sussex. He said: “Joint pain is very common. I think people often confuse Rheumatoid Arthritis with Osteoarthritis. Both cause joint pain but the latter condition is more common in older people and is caused by wear and tear. Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease, where the patient’s immune response attacks the joints and can affect people of all ages.”
It is estimated that one person in every 100 has Rheumatoid Arthritis which would equate to approximately 3,500 people in the area served by Sussex MSK Partnership East.
Dr Ingvarsson said: “There is a significant number of people in our area living with Rheumatoid Arthritis. We are growing the local NHS service to help these patients get quicker and easier diagnosis, treatment and support to lead full and active lives.
“It’s really important to diagnose and start treating as soon as possible. If left untreated Rheumatoid Arthritis can permanently damage the joints. However, diagnosis is not straight-forward as there is no single definitive test and symptoms vary from patient to patient. While painful joints can be a symptom of the condition, the majority of patients who have this symptom do not have Rheumatoid Arthritis.
“If a GP suspects that a patient may have Rheumatoid Arthritis they will refer them to our service. We are recruiting clinicians and setting up clinics in community settings in the area so that it’s easier for patients to see a specialist closer to where they live or work without needing to travel to hospital.
“There is no cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis but with the right medication the majority of people will have few symptoms and most patients will be able to lead full and active lives. Taking their medication as prescribed is really important but there are also a number of things that patients can do to help prevent the condition from progressing. These are healthy lifestyle choices that are generally beneficial to your health such as exercise, diet and not smoking. Smoking has a direct adverse effect on Rheumatoid Arthritis as not only can it exacerbate symptoms but can also affect the way the medication works.”
It can be devastating to be diagnosed with a lifelong condition like Rheumatoid Arthritis but information and support is available. The National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) has a very comprehensive website and a free helpline (0800 298 7650) where people can speak to someone for advice and support.